By Mike McMahan, LPC
Most likely you know that the number of autism diagnoses have risen dramatically in the last few years. There may be several reasons for this, though it’s important to note that there is no evidence that vaccines are among them and that this has been discredited by the scientific community. What is also inarguable is that there we are going to encounter more and more children with autism and, logically, more adults with autism in the future. Many parents of children with autism (and special needs parents in general) wonder what the future holds. I recently stumbled onto a story about being a man with autism and the struggle to be involved in, and understand, romance. To me, it has Hollywood written all over it, as it shows the potential to overcome a serious emotional challenge.
As the author, Phil Martin, explains, love presents a lot of challenges for him—as it does for all of us. For Phil, an adult on the autism spectrum, moving in with a girlfriend meant dealing with how to be close with an intimate partner, learning to eat different foods and questioning what exactly love is. Though this relationship, like many, was unsuccessful, the article ends on a hopeful note, as now Phil is married.
So how did Phil overcome these challenges? One way he did it was step-by-step, with small steps all along the way. Note what he said about eating: “She agreed to cook the foods I liked but only if she could incorporate new foods into my diet. It started with boneless baked chicken and macaroni and cheese. Eventually, she would add in broccoli, rice, corn, etc. Eventually she put a big spin on things and made Parmesan chicken. It took some getting used to but at the end of the day, I tried more new foods in my 24th year than my entire life.” So his partner made the foods he liked but with a small amount of new things thrown in. This story is so visual for me that I feel as though the script would write itself, and I’m highly confident that the story would move a lot of people and be helpful in dispelling some autism myths.
Think about how this might apply to your own life. I’ve used exercise as an example before, but it bears repeating as it is something that many people (including myself) struggle to integrate and complete successfully. Many will say to themselves, “I’m going to run as far as I can today,” and maybe even jog three or four miles. You might even do it again the next day. But by that third day, you’re so tired you can’t do it. Then you fall into negative self-talk (“I can’t do this, I’m a failure”) and abandon the project. But what if you did a minimal amount of exercise for a week and then gradually increased it a little more? Results aren’t going to be instantaneous anyway, so “the long run” is the most important, anyway. Once you begin to have a routine, you can increase it very gradually. It seems that is what Phil did. A little at a time until he got used to it. And it sounds like it took a full year.
So give yourself a break and take it slow. One new food at a time, one bite at a time. And let’s hope Phil Martin’s story makes it to the silver screen sometime down the line.
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture